Each year, as the Nashville landscape changes and the city becomes more diverse, its history becomes more important in understanding this city’s complexity. It’s no secret that a huge part of Nashville’s history comes from its country music roots, and venues like the Grand Ole Opry and the Ryman Auditorium are a big part of that history. Not too many years ago, the Wildhorse Saloon was added to the list of well-known live-event venues, and it’s now known as Nashville’s No. 1 dining and entertainment destination.
The world-famous Wildhorse Saloon was opened in 1994, and captured the attention of Nashville natives and visitors to the city when country singer Reba McEntire herded a stampede of live cattle through the city streets and past the front doors of the newly opened venue. Since that day, the Wildhorse Saloon has continued to draw in visitors from around the world with an award-winning menu and unique capabilities.
Located in the heart of Music City on historic Second Avenue, the Wildhorse Saloon is known for its live entertainment and free line dancing. As a three-level historic warehouse of more than 60,000 square feet, this live-music dance hall serves more than 1.5 million music fans each year and is the largest per capita restaurant in the state of Tennessee. We sat down with Jennifer McKell with advertising and promotions at the Wildhorse Saloon, to talk about the venues history and future.
DES: How long have you worked in advertising and promotions for the Wildhorse Saloon, and what’s your scope of work in this position?
Jennifer McKell: I have been in the marketing/advertising field since 2007. The focus of the position is mainly composed of knowing the product, finding the target audience and then purchasing advertising to support reaching that target demographic. Whether it is through radio, print, TV, Internet or targeted social media, the product becomes known. Once advertising is in play, the promotions aspect of the job kicks in with additional support through cross-promotional opportunities with media partners and vendors.
DES: While the Wildhorse Saloon hasn’t had a presence in Nashville as long as other venues, such as the Ryman Auditorium or the Grand Ole Opry, it is a very well-known venue and an important part of this city’s history. What is the most interesting story from the Wildhorse’s years as a premier live-event venue in Nashville?
Jennifer McKell: This is a tough one. The Wildhorse is unique in the way that it changes hour by hour. That is one thing that makes it so interesting. It is never the same, and there are so many stories to choose from. In 2010, when the flood happened, we were shut down for three weeks. Keep in mind that this is right before CMA Festival hits downtown Nashville. We needed to get up and running quickly to not miss out on the festivities and the revenue they generate for us and the city. So, 24-hour work was being done to get us up and running just in time. Then the first concert we have is Puddle of Mudd. Now that is ironic.
DES: The Wildhorse sets itself apart from other venues in the city by offering a number of services, including a bar, restaurant, concert site, dance venue and TV studio, all under one roof. What else makes the Wildhorse Saloon special or unique when compared to other venues in Nashville?
Jennifer McKell: The Wildhorse is also unique given the fact it is the only one. It is not a chain where you go to any large city and see the same atmosphere. The Wildhorse offers an experience that you can’t get anywhere else. Guests can leave their worries on the door step and just let go here. Not only that, we are a nonsmoking, family venue, with free billiards, air hockey and even an arcade. Another aspect is our full catering department that does amazing group events in the building and off-site. The ability to organize a block party or even a small business lunch is testament to how versatile the Wildhorse is.
DES: The Marriott secured a partnership with all Gaylord properties, including the Wildhorse Saloon. How has this relationship changed operations at the Wildhorse?
Jennifer McKell: The guests who enter our venue do not feel any difference at all. In fact, most of them have no idea Marriott manages the Wildhorse Saloon. It is a great partnership that only enhances our ability to reach a worldwide audience. From an operations standpoint, there really isn’t that much difference, outside of some system updates.
DES: What are the biggest challenges you and the Wildhorse Saloon face in the foreseeable future as Nashville continues to grow and new venues, like the Music City Center, are introduced?
Jennifer McKell: I don’t believe we will see too many challenges because we are so unique and can offer many options to the leisure guest or to the corporate world. The Music City Center and growing hotels only enhance our ability to create new relationships with those who visit our city.
DES: Does Metro DES supply both heating and cooling for the building? How long has the Wildhorse Saloon been on the Metro DES? Do you think being on the system is beneficial to the Wildhorse versus an in-house heating and cooling system?
Jennifer McKell: Yes, we have been on the Metro DES for more than 10 years. It is quite beneficial on many fronts to be on the system. Metro DES has a 24-hour monitoring system that alerts the leadership team in the event of issues with heating and cooling. It is more economically efficient to be on this system than having an in-house system. The Metro DES team is very responsive and offers assistance whenever needed, along with great customer service.
DES: Working in advertising and promotions at the Wildhorse likely requires you to wear a number of different hats and work on a variety of events and projects. What is your favorite aspect of your job or event that you have been a part of?
Jennifer McKell: My favorite aspect of the job is twofold. One is that I get to help create experiences for guests and then watch them unfold and see the delight on a guest’s face that they enjoyed what we had to offer. And the other is working with a great team where we can be open and creative and come together to create these experiences.